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Front Page » September 11, 2003 » Local News » Survey launches city revitalization project
Published 4,411 days ago

Survey launches city revitalization project

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Staff reporter

In February 1955, it appeared Gooseberry dam would be built in short order.

Considering all the setbacks, pullouts and proclamations from various government entities, it would seem the idea would have faded away.

But for almost 40 years, Sanpete County lobbied to replace the Mammoth Dam that had collapsed shortly after America entered World War 1. When the structure was finally built, Sanpete interests intended the water to be diverted into their valleys rather than be controlled by residents in Carbon County.

Following the completion of the Scofield Dam, bills were introduced in the United States Congress to form the Central Utah Project.

Having been set back for political reasons in the beginning and then by the national focus on the Korean War in the early 1950s, the idea of a master water project in Utah was ripe for the picking.

America's expansion mode played into the hands of developing a system designed to provide large amounts of water to the Wasatch Front. It was to be done through tran-basin diversions from the Colorado River drainage, creating the Bonneville Unit of the CUP project.

However, CUP included additional units, many of which have been completed. Others have yet to be finished almost 50 years after the bill's original passage.

The CUP project has set several firsts, including some that could be considered negative depending on the point of view.

One so-called failure from a Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) and CUP supporters' vantage point was the inability of the project managers to overcome local and national opposition to building the Echo Park and Split Mountain dams in northwestern Colorado.

The Echo Park and Split Mountain projects were primarily defeated by the Sierra Club, led by David Brower.

At the time, the group was not a wealthy money collecting "envirobusiness," but a grass-roots organization with active members.

"Success springs from deeds, not dollars," said Brower. His was a philosophy of activism more that litigation.

Brower's alliance with Bernard DeVoto, a well known historian and author of Across the Wide Missouri, brought the American public into the opposition mix by using the fact that the two dams would have been located in Dinosaur National Park.

The projects were halted, despite the death of DeVoto in the middle of the debate. It was the first time the environmental movement had kept major dams from being built by an arm of the U.S. government.

A second failure occurred in Utah, where a part of the Bonneville unit - the Gooseberry project - has never been completed. But while the Echo Park and Split Mountain dams were killed in the 1950s, Gooseberry has never died.

Gooseberry's first defeat after the initial appropriation was not due to environmental intervention, but to resistance from a group of businessmen, politicians and agricultural interests from a county on the east side of the Wasatch Plateau.

On Feb. 10, 1955,officials from Utah, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and concerned citizens from Carbon County met at Price Civic Auditorium. At the meeting, it was determined Carbon County would pull out all political stops to halt the project that if the powers in Congress continued to insist that the Gooseberry project be included in the CUP appropriations bill. The moves included sending a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on the issue.

On March 1, the inevitable happened. Nothing had changed in the office of the Utah Water and Power Board nor at the congressional level. The Gooseberry dam appropriations were still figured in the bill before a U.S. Senate sub-committee. At that point, four men from Carbon flew from Salt Lake to Washington to go before officials to oppose the bill.

The delegation included Price Mayor William J. Welsh, Helper Mayor Steve Diamanti, Carbon civil engineer John Bene and Irvin Gerber, representing the water companies of the county. The trip was financed by the companies in conjunction with the county and city governments.

Sanpete County also sent a delegation to counter the Carbon group. Representating Sanpete were two lawyers, one from Manti and one from Mount Pleasant.

Upon arriving at the U.S. Capitol, the Carbon group met with the Utah congressional delegation to lobby the representatives to re-express their views. But the delegation had already committed to support the irrigation project for Sanpete County.

By the end of the day, the sub-committee also had possession of copied documents that presented the history of the proposed project and Carbon's case against Gooseberry's construction.

One main argument made against the project was the fact that Carbon water concerns existed in the natural drainage of Gooseberry Creek and Sanpete's diversion would change the balance.

Another argument was the cost of the project. Had Gooseberry been built in the early 1940s, the cost would have been less than constructing the Scofield Dam. But by the mid-1950s, the cost had jumped to nearly $6 million based on BOR estimates. The total valuation of property in Sanpete County at the time was only $13 million so the argument pursued a path of cost verses value.

Eastern Utah interests also argued that Carbon's economy had always been based on the water coming out of the drainage. But none of Sanpete's had been supported by the water the county wanted out of the project. Basically, Carbon concerns contended that, if the dam were built, the CRSP would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Meanwhile, the Utah congressional delegation was trying to convince the Carbon group not to go before the sub-committee, claiming that if part of the CUP were lost, all of it could be in jeopardy. But the Carbon group would not be deterred.

At midweek, the Carbon delegation appeared directly before the sub-committee and testified for more than an hour about the local side of the issue. Senators on the subcommittee were from New Mexico, Wyoming, California and Arthur Watkins from Utah, who had introduced the original bill.

In addition, the Carbon County representatives met with a large group of congressmen who wanted to hear the local arguments as well.

When the delegation returned to Price the next weekend, the members felt that, if the Gooseberry project were included in the bill, it would only be on a conditional basis.

A few days later, the bill was submitted to the full committee. Once again, a delegation from Carbon County decided to return to Washinton since Utah congressional representatives as well as state water board officials were trying to push the bill through as written. Welsh and Price attorney Therald Jensen traveled to the U.S. Capitol and, on March 17, presented the same arguments to the Senate committee conducting hearings on the bill.

In the meantime, Watkins released a statement declaring that the bill needed to go to a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He expressed the hope that Carbon and Sanpete "would get together and resolve their differences in a manner which would satisfy the water needs of both counties ..."

Carbon officials and residents were upset by Watkins' statements. Telegrams from the community started to pour into Washington, D.C. The telegrams were particularly keyed toward several important congressional leaders. The crescendo of contacts continued for more than two months as the bill was modified and changed time and time again.

In the middle of June, the word came back to Carbon County that a number of projects included the original bill were being "deferred" until later dates. The list of deterred projects included the Gooseberry dam.

Carbon interests were ecstatic, since the fight had seemingly been won. But it was a temporary victory. The introduction of Gooseberry into the folds of the CUP during the years would bring the project back to life repeatedly into the 21st century.

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